Gary scores on the write track
Writing his life story has helped Gary Steer, from Gloucester, overcome the troubled legacy of a childhood accident that nearly killed him and shattered his dreams of sporting stardom.
Today after years of pain both physical and psychological, Gary is looking to the future with new hope. He says:
“Writing everything down released a lot of inner thoughts I had running round in my head. It's really incredibly therapeutic.
“It’s really put things into perspective. There are things I could never draw a line under while they were in my head. Now they are down on paper, it’s helped a lot.
“At school you’re under a lot of peer pressure, reading and writing seems like a geeky thing to do, but I’ve learned now that it does open a lot of doors.
“It’s always good to be open about how you feel and I’ve found writing is a good way of doing it.”
From the time he started to walk At the age of 11, Gary, from Podsmead, felt he had the world at his feet. An avid West Ham fan and a talented youth footballer with Windsor Drive, one of the county's top youth sides, his burning ambition was to play professionally when he left school – ideally for his favourite team.
Thirteen years ago, on February 27, 1993, a road accident put paid to that hope, and almost to his life too.
Cycling home from a swimming trip with a pal in Gloucester, Gary was thrown from his bike when his bag caught in a wheel, and landed on his head.
He was rushed to hospital unconscious with serious head injuries. When he woke up a week later he was paralysed, and his family were told he might never walk again.
But Gary was determined. Inside three months he wasn’t just walking again, he was back playing football.
The accident had taken its toll, though. Brave as he was, Gary’s sporting prowess had been weakened by his brain injury and he struggled to play the game at the same level as before.
There were other frustrations too. Six months after leaving hospital Gary started senior school but he was badly bullied because he frequently wet himself as a result of his accident. He retaliated by becoming a rebel and, he admits, "I became a bit of a bully myself". By the time he left Beaufort Community School he had no clear idea of where his future lay.
After a bout of depression at 17, an opportunity to train as a football coach in Kent offered an opportunity to channel his sporting ambitions in a different direction. But after a confident start – Gary admits:
“I was over-confident, a bit of a show-off and it didn’t win me any friends," – depression struck again.
"The crunch came after a college match where I scored three goals, but was beating myself up for not getting six. Suddenly I found myself crying my eyes out in the changing room."
Within weeks he was back home in Gloucester, on tranquilisers, and the future looked bleak.
At his lowest point, on Millennium Eve 2000, Gary tried to take his life with a huge cocktail of drink, Prozac and paracetamol.
“I chose the biggest night of the year, while everyone was out enjoying themselves. I’d planned it all and been hoarding my P and buying paracetamol for weeks. I thought I’d just go to sleep and never wake up. I was looking for a way out. This seemed the only way."
Instead of oblivion, however, Gary found himself in agony and throwing up. A desperate phone call brought his family rushing to his rescue. "I just managed to whisper 'I'm dying' . If the number hadn't been programmed into the phone so I only had to press one button I wouldn't be here now."
A short spell in a psychiatric hospital as a voluntary patient followed – “I just wanted to get away from everyone for a bit” – and then Gary struggled to pick up the pieces of his life.
Passion for writing
After two years, much of the time out of work and drinking the days away in his local pub, Gary joined an IT training course that was to unlock a passion for writing.
“Part of the course was a personal project and I decided to write about my life. Once I started the words started pouring out of me. And it helped me put things in perspective.
"It became an obsession, I'd write for eight hours solid, it was my reason for getting up in the morning. It was incredibly therapeutic to get the feelings out and written down. I used to think reading and writing was something for girls or geeks, not blokes like me.
"Now I have proved myself - not just to myself but to all the people who never thought I'd do it."
Gary found sponsorship from local businesses including a local estate agent and spent £1,800 of his own money to get his story into print. Now it’s on sale at a local bookshop in aid of the Cotswold Headway Trust, a Gloucester-based head injury self-help and support group affiliated to Headway, the national brain injury association.
"I want my story to help other people who have suffered a brain injury, and be an inspiration to others."
He now hopes to get his story published nationwide, and has another dream, too. "I'd love to make a career out of writing. I know I have a long way to go but I believe in myself and the feedback I've had from people who have read my book has been really encouraging."
"It was completely unedited, it's all my own words, and I know some of the spellings and stuff might be wrong but it was my chance to have my say without people interrupting, to release all those demons without people jumping into the conversation and saying: 'Yeah, I know how you feel.'
"A brain injury is a traumatic experience and it dictates the rest of your life. You can't let go of that one defining moment, especially when it prevents you from achieving a dream.
"I've adapted to life after the injury but it won't stop me achieving other ambitions. I believe if something is meant to be it will happen."
Fighting A Brain Injury, by Gary Steer, is on sale at Ottakars in Gloucester for £6.99, or available by mail order via his website – e-mail:
last updated: 05/03/2008 at 09:39